Ned Dishman - Getty Images
With a myriad of players missing either due to injury or excused absence, the Revs, and more specifically, Jay Heaps, face a huge challenge this weekend against Houston.
Injuries always play a role in any season, sometimes more than others, but with the 2012 winding down for the New England Revolution, available players are dropping like flies.
First, it was the loss of Saer Sene to season-ending knee surgery. Then, the news about Flo Lechner and Lee Nguyen both being lost for the rest of 2012 as well. Then, you add the nagging injuries to players like Chris Tierney, Tyler Polak, and Clyde Simms, and you're left with a very depleted squad.
Not to be forgotten as well, is the absence of Ryan Guy. Guy has been nothing short of an inspiring revelation in the summer of 2012, but he too, will be missing on Saturday against the Houston Dynamo due to his national team responsibilities with Guam. Guam are participating in the Peace Cup tournament, and Guy will be there in the middle of the action.
So where does that leave the Revs in terms of what the lineup should look like? First and foremost, let's take a look at the official injury report from the team:
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION -- OUT: DF Flo Lechner (R knee MCL sprain); MF Lee Nguyen (R shoulder surgery); DF Tyler Polak (R foot sprain); FW Saer Sene (L knee ACL surgery); DF Chris Tierney (L knee sprain / L hamstring strain); DOUBTFUL: MF Clyde Simms (R calf tightness)
The only player with a glimmer of hope on the report would be Simms, who is listed as doubtful, but for the sake of this conversation (as well as some blogger intuition) I'm just going to personally assume he won't be available.
AT THE BACK: Won't be much change as far as starters here. Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, Stephen McCarthy, and A.J. Soares are available, so the first four won't be a problem, The problem lies, however, with the depth behind this group, as it's a bunch of question marks. Will players like Alec Purdie crack the lineup, albeit out of position? It remains to be seen. My thinking here is, barring injury or disciplinary action, these four will start AND finish on Saturday.
IN THE MIDFIELD: No Ryan Guy, Lee Nguyen, or Clyde Simms. That leaves us, theoretically, with Kelyn Rowe, Benny Feilhaber, Fernando Cardenas, Sainey Nyassi, Blair Gavin, Purdie, Michael Roach, and Juan Toja all vying for some minutes. For me, believe it or not, Rowe is probably the only one I'd be confident saying "YES, he's in". Think about it: Toja still knocking off rust, Gavin has been on the injury report almost his entire time in Foxboro, Feilhaber's situation is well documented, and Cardenas has played more as a super sub.
For me, the idea is simple: play who you think your best four/five midfielders are, get the players some action, try to remain as competitive as possible, and then in the latter stages of the match, bring in your fringe players for minutes in the final stanzas of the match.
My recommendation, depending on form and fitness: Cardenas out left, Benny and Toja in the middle (I'd play Benny a bit deeper, as he's shown good defensive prowess and his vision is great), and Kelyn Rowe out wide right. As far as who could come off the bench, I'd really like to finally see what Gavin has, and reserve squad guys like Purdie and Roach really have earned at least a run-out, no?
UP TOP: I don't expect much to change up top, although I think it should. Jerry Bengtson for sure, but against a well-known physical team like Houston, I'd rather start a bigger striker than Diego Fagundez up top to partner with Jerry. Dimitry Imbongo has shown flashes, and we've all forgotten about Blake Brettschneider too. Someone big, physical, and able to withstand the Dynamo pressure would work a little better, in my opinion. So, hopefully we see one of the bigger forwards partnering with Bengtson.
HOW IT PLAYS OUT: This is where things will get interesting down the stretch. Injuries piling up, players fighting for jobs in 2013, as well as tactical experimentation will all have an effect on what the squad will look like these last five games. While the ultimate goal of winning is always a constant, with the situation being what it is right now in Foxboro, sometimes there are other factors that can be just as important without the pressures of making the playoffs being there.
There are a lot of decisions facing Jay Heaps this week and in the weeks to follow, but with a little less pressure on the Revs with the playoffs out of reach, expect to have a little bit of fun watching this team in as we approach October. Fresh faces in different places as well as the evolution of younger players will all take place right before our eyes, and the future of the club will be right in front of us.